September 20, 1999
Child Fatality Report Shows Many
NASHVILLE, TN (SafetyAlerts) - A review of childhood fatalities in Tennessee
in 1997 released today by the Tennessee Department of Health indicates that hundreds of
children's deaths could have been prevented through the use of safety belts, child safety
seats, helmets, flotation devices, smoke alarms, and better health education.
A review of 1,065 deaths that occurred in 1997 by
33 child fatality review teams showed that 69 percent were the result of natural causes,
22 percent were caused by unintentional injuries, 6 percent resulted from violence, and 2
percent were undetermined. The review teams were created in 1996 to review deaths of all
children 17 and under in order to reduce the number of preventable child deaths in
"The needless death of even one child that
could have been prevented is a tragedy," said Health Commissioner Fredia Wadley, MD.
"We must take steps to make sure that parents and others are aware of the risks that
children face and what can be done to prevent unnecessary fatalities."
Among deaths due to natural causes, 45 percent
resulted from illness, 43 percent from prematurity and 13 percent from SIDS. Infant sleep
position is a risk factor for SIDS, and 20 of the 94 SIDS fatalities were found face down
on their stomach. Position on discovery was not known for another 62 SIDS deaths.
One hundred fifty children died in motor vehicle
crashes, representing 14 percent of all childhood deaths. The child was the driver in 32
percent of the incidents. In at least 60 percent of the cases, child safety seats or
safety belts were not used. In 10 percent of the incidents where the child was an occupant
of a vehicle, the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and in 44 percent of
the incidents, speeding or reckless driving was involved. In incidents in which a
motorcycle, ATV or bicycle was involved, nine children died who were not wearing helmets.
Drowning was the second most frequent cause of
unintentional injury deaths, followed by fire or burns, suffocation, and firearm
accidents. Of 21 victims who drowned in a swimming pool or natural body of water, at least
19 were not wearing a flotation device. In half of the fatal fire and burn incidents,
there was no smoke alarm, and 40 percent were caused by a child playing or someone
smoking. Almost half of the suffocation deaths resulted from a person overlying or rolling
over on the child.
Of the 68 violence related fatalities, 41 were
homicide victims, and 27 committed suicide. Child abuse or neglect was suspected in 31
More than half of the fatalities were children
under one year old. Fatality rates were higher for males than females, and for blacks than
The report includes recommendations by the child
fatality review teams in order to prevent future child deaths. The teams called for
passage of a graduated drivers license bill to reduce the number of teen drivers who die
in vehicular crashes; mandatory autopsies and a standard investigation protocol for all
sudden, unexplained deaths of children under 18; and the creation of a task force to
develop strategies for firearm safety.
Source: Tennessee Department of Health
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